The Bob Rich Collection
Photos posted 26 Feb 2002. Stories updated 3 June 2004
I was at NAVSTA Adak for 13 months, 1973-1974, working as a telephone
lineman for half my tour and as a telephone operator the other half.
Here's a few of my many memories of that place.
THE TELEPHONE EXCHANGE
One evening when I was manning the NAVSTA telephone switchboard, the
red emergency light and buzzer went off. It was the one light that
never went off, but we were told that if it did, we were to drop
everything and answer it. It was an emergency and likely the Captain.
The buzzer went off, I dropped all of my other calls and plugged into
it. It was a Captain from the mainland, and he told me to connect him
to the base Captain immediately. I pulled the toggle switch back so I
could listen in, and I overheard the Captain say that there was a 7
earthquake that was just about to hit the island. Moments later the
brick walls around me began to ripple as if made of Jell-O. I thought
the building would collapse, so I disconnected my headset and ran
outside. To my amazement, the seemingly endless flat ground that
surrounded the Telephone Exchange looked like an ocean. Wave after wave
passed and faded into the distance, and I could feel the earth rising
and falling under my feet. It must have lasted about a minute. The
building hadn't collapsed, so I ran back in to see if any more
emergency calls would follow. Soon after I received the 'All Clear'.
One of my favorite jobs working at the telephone exchange was tracing
phone calls. The Switch Room was a clean and secured area that we had
access to. It was heaven for guys like me who love gadgets. In those
days all of the switches were mechanical, and as you walked through the
switching area, you could hear and see the clicking of the relays as
people dialed their phones. We were taught how to trace the call from
one relay to another until we discovered the call's origin. Security
would often call us in at night to trace a call for them. It was like a
hi-tech game. One of the bennies of the job was that we were able to
call home free of charge by connecting to operators all over the world
that would put us through to the States. I often ended up waking up my
family and friends at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Sometimes after
hours we'd hang out at the TV station, and the guys there would let us
take the controls. Boy that was fun!
When I was on the Telephone Line Crew, we used to drive around in this
big, gray line truck filled with telephone cable and tools. It was slow
moving and we had to double clutch it, but once it got rolling it used
to haul. A game we used to play was to drive the truck as fast as we
could down a hill, aim for the biggest hole we could find and try to
get the passenger to smash his head on the ceiling. No matter how good
you got your buddy, he always got you back when it was his turn to
drive. Those hard hats did serve a purpose.
Many of the telephone poles on Adak had been standing since WWII, so
when we sunk our climber into one, it was as if the pole was made of
balsawood. If the chunk of wood didn't come flying out, it sunk in so
deep that we had a hard time pulling our spikes out. Due to high winds,
half the pole was usually covered with ice and snow. That was the side
that you climbed on, so we could wrap our hands around the backside
that was usually dry. We'd never belt off while climbing up, fearing
that if we were to start burning down, we couldn't get away from the
pole and would wind up with a stomach full of splinters. We'd always
push ourselves away from the pole and we all burned down from time to
time. We would love it when we'd get a call during a storm in the
middle of the night telling us that the Captain's phone went out and
had to be repaired immediately. We'd have to climb the rotten poles in
pitch dark in driving snow with a flashlight in our mouth to see what
we were doing. Ya, we loved the Captain...
Remember the Friday nights with the cases of beer stacked to the
ceiling? More than once I stood watch, found a guy passed out in the
head that was laying face down in his own puke. I was kind enough to
turn the guy over so he could breath.
There was a lot of dead time on the island and not a lot for young guys
to do. Some hung out every night in the bar. Some were really into
drugs. Though there were always drug crackdowns, there was always pot
around and blotter acid used to flow onto the island via letters from
home that a guy a few rooms over used to receive. One small letter
contains hundreds of hits. I remember getting on the bus one night and
remembering how strange it was that in the middle of the Aleutian
Islands, there was a busload of guys, most of whom were tripping.
One night a bunch of us guys were picked up by an Amtrack and we were
driven through really deep snow to the top of a mountain. I had no idea
were we were, but it took a long time to get there. In the middle of
nowhere there was a water tower all lit up with loud music coming from
it. Inside it was filled with guys, and most were smoking pot or
tripping. They had a blazing fire in the middle of the tower in an oil
drum stove, and they were heating batteries on top of it, trying to
give life to their flashlights and tape players. I remember walking
outside to get away from the crowd and lying on my back in the snow. I
looked up and saw the clearest sky I had ever seen. There was an
intensely bright full moon and a sky filled with stars. The air was
just so pure and clean. I remember thinking that it was like being on
Larry Brown was like my brother. We roomed together in Electrician 'A'
school at Great Lakes and we went to Adak together. I was so stupid
that I lost his address and I never heard from him since. Cliff Garman
and Jim Kartes were great friends as well. After Adak, we went
everywhere together while stationed at Port Hueneme. Cliff and I went
to Gitmo together and I think Jim went to Puerto Rico. I had a roommate
from Boston on Adak that we used to call 'Doc'. He was a bit strange,
with long straight black hair that he used to slick down for
inspection. Dress codes were rather lax under Admiral Zumwalt. I don't
know if I ever ironed my uniform. Doc was dating a young, good looking
civilian and they started a rock band that was actually quite good.
They had the Jefferson Airplane sound down, and my Roommate Lee Roy Cox
and I used to be their sound guys. When my tour of Adak was over, I
received a call from someone who told me that Doc had cut his wrists in
order to get off the island early. I wonder what happened to him?
Jim was a true 'gearhead' and had a great Land Rover. One night we
offered to baby sit for a family that we knew. The streets were dry as
a bone when we got there, and the next time we looked out the window,
the snowdrifts were over six feet deep! I remember getting in the Land
Rover that had chains all around and just plowing through the
snowdrifts like they weren't there. I bet that Jeep is still on the
Jim and I filed a claim for a water tower that overlooked the Crab
Processing Docks (What's the name of that place? Answer: Finger Bay).
If I remember correctly, you could lay claim to a building until the
time you left the island. I had an AR-15, a beautiful Browning
semi-auto shotgun and a 44-magnum lever action rifle. The water tower
already had a deck, which split the tower into 2 levels, the top for
sleeping and the bottom for hanging out and cooking in the oil drum
stove. We hung gun racks and added bars to the doors and windows for
security because someone was always trying to break through the locks
when we weren't there. We usually had enough ammo to fight a small war,
and we hunted Ptarmigan and just about anything else that moved. At
night we'd hunt rats in the dump. Lee Roy had a car, and I remember
painting the face of a girl on the hood with One-Shot sign paint. The
car had a huge rack of spotlights in the front that we could turn on
with the flick of a switch. We'd slowly and quietly pull into the dump.
Each of us would get out of the car on the left and right behind the
open doors and someone would throw the switch. Rats would be running
everywhere. We'd shoot and reload as fast as we could for about a
minute. By then everything was dead or gone. With flashlights in hand,
we'd pile up the dead rats and the pile would be about 2' high. When
we'd return in the morning, there wouldn't be a trace of them. I was
told that the eagles picked them up at night. The fun would start again
the following night, and they never seemed to be in short supply.
I was 18 when I went to Adak. I wish I were older because I know I
would have made better use of the time and experience. Though I'm not
proud of everything we did on the island, we did work hard and did a
good job considering we were just a bunch of kids out of High School
with no work experience, little or no supervision and huge
responsibilities. My friends became closer than brothers and I will
always remember them. For me Adak was the adventure of a lifetime. When
I was there I couldn't wait to leave. Now that it's been 30 years, I
wish I could return to those days...at least for a couple of weeks.
Regards to all who served there.
NAVSTA Adak, AK<
These movies have been converted from Super-8 movies. Suggestions
for viewing: If you have a high speed connection (DSL, Cablemodem,
something on the order of 256 kilobits per second or more) you can
simply click on the link and Windows Media Player should buffer the
movie and play it more or less at the same time you are getting it.
Otherwise, you may wish to download it to your computer and play it
once it is entirely in your computer. To do this, click on the
link with the right mouse button and choose "save link as" or "save
target as" and save it to your computer. Then you can locate
it and play it. MAC users: I don't think WMV's will play on a MAC and
accessing the save target (save link) is via the menu bar.
- The Dock (2.9 megabytes, WMV Windows Media
format. Version 8 of Direct X is needed; it should auto-download and
- Climbing a telephone pole. (5.2 megabytes
Windows WMV format) Here's a clip of me
climbing a telephone pole. I was told that many of the poles on Adak
have been up since WWII, which made them rotten and dangerous
to climb. It also didn't help that one side was usually coated with
- Bald Eagle (1.7 megabytes, Windows WMV
format). An eagle photographed from the top of a telephone pole. It is
in silhouette; the sky is spectacular but the eagle is not clearly
- Coast (13 megabytes, Windows WMV format).
Driving from about the High School, views of the BOQ, then north on the
main highway to Kuluk Bay east of Kuluk housing. See the waves and a
of the mountains surrounding Kuluk Bay. It is also a fine example
of a typical Adak day, very bleak with tantalizing bits of almost
sunshine here and there.
- Crossing (8.3 megabytes, Windows WMV
People walking and driving in high winds with a few inches of
snow, ice, slush and whatnot on the ground. Views from Birchwood
Barracks and the Bering Building.
- Telephone Exchange (6.4
Windows WMV Format).
The guy at the desk is me in the telephone exchange. I was on the
I think the totem pole was in front of the Navy Exchange.
The switchboard was in the telephone exchange. I worked it nights
months. One night I received an emergency call from an Admiral warning
earthquake what was about to hit (7 on the rictor scale) and I patched
call into the Captain. Moments later the brick walls turned into
ran outside and the ground was waving like an ocean for as far as I
see. It lasted for about a minute. I'll never forget it.
The old man (I can't remember his name) was a civilian that set up
the telephone system. I worked with him from time to time tracing
The last shot is me fixing a downed wire during a storm. We often
the poles in the middle of a storm in the night.